The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why does Pavarotti – the man and now the movie – fascinate us?

June 8, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend a lot of people nationwide will go see the movie “Pavarotti,” the documentary by Ron Howard about the legendary Italian tenor who died 12 years ago.

Luciano Pavarotti (below) was and remains a superstar, a major cultural phenomenon, which is why Decca Records is cashing in by releasing not only the soundtrack to the documentary film but also a new 3-CD compilation of Pavarotti’s best singing.

It’s all so curious, especially if you compare Pavarotti’s artistic accomplishments against those of, say, Placido Domingo.

Pavarotti couldn’t read music.

He couldn’t act very convincingly.

The roles he learned were relatively limited in number.

He made major personal and professional missteps.

Yet we remain deeply drawn to Pavarotti.

Why?

It certainly has to do with his extraordinary voice, the tone and power of which could make your neck hairs stand on end, give you goosebumps, bring tears to your eyes and make you sob out loud.

Just listen to his singing of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” the crowd-pleasing signature aria from “Turandot” that Pavarotti performed over and over again in concerts, operas and at the famous “Three Tenors” stadium concerts. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But there is more to Pavarotti as a cultural phenomenon, much more, that tells us about ourselves and about the appeal of opera in general.

Without question, the best cultural analysis of Luciano Pavarotti that The Ear has ever seen or heard came recently from the critic Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times.

As Woolfe deconstructs “this hulking, sweaty man with stringy hair, a patchy beard and an unforgettable sound,” you learn much about the popular appeal – both high and low — of opera as well as the commercial and artistic appeal of Pavarotti.

Here is a link to Woolfe’s “Critic’s Notebook” analysis, which is well worth reading on its own or either before or after you see the new film.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/arts/music/pavarotti-ron-howard.html

And here is the official trailer for the film, with comments from many of his colleagues, which gets mixed reviews:

What do you think of Zachary Woolfe’s analysis of Pavarotti?

Why do you think the singer was so popular?

What is your favorite performance of his?

And if you saw the film, what did you think of it? Do you recommend seeing it?

Leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Cliburn-winning pianist Kenneth Broberg makes his Madison debut with a FREE master class this evening and a recital Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos

November 3, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

A 25-year-old Minneapolis native, pianist Kenneth Broberg (below in a photo by Jeremy Enlow for The Cliburn) won the silver medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

His 2017-2018 debut season as a Cliburn medalist included recital engagements in cities across the United States and Europe. His debut solo album was released by Decca Gold in August 2017.

This weekend, Broberg — whose playing The Ear finds impressively beautiful — makes his Madison debut at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the far west side near West Towne Mall, as part of the Salon Piano Series.

Broberg will be featured in a master class with local young pianists and a solo recital.

For more about Broberg, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Broberg

And to the pianist’s home web site: https://kennybroberg.com

For more about the Salon Piano Series and the other three concerts this season, along with videos and reviews, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

You can also hear Broberg play a lyrical and well-known Impromptu by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom. He also has many other performances on YouTube, including some from the Cliburn competition.

Here are details about his appearances:

MASTER CLASS

Broberg will give a master class with local piano students THIS EVENING from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The literature being played is: Sonata in B-Flat Major, K. 333, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Des Abends” (Evening) and “Grillen” (Whims) from “Fantasiestuecke (Fantasy Pieces) Op. 12, by Robert Schumann; and “Evocation” and “El Puerto” for the “Iberia” Suite by Isaac Albéniz

The master class is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.  Children must be age 6 and over to attend.

SOLO RECITAL

On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. Broberg will perform a solo recital at Farley’s House of Pianos in the main showroom.

The program includes: Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18, by Cesar Franck and Harold Bauer; Sonata in E minor  “Night Wind,” Op. 25, No. 2, by Nikolai Medtner; Toccata on “L’Homme armé” by Marc-André Hamelin; “Children’s Corner” Suite by Claude Debussy (movements are “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum; Jimbo’s Lullaby;  Serenade for the Doll; The Snow Is Dancing; The Little Shepherd; and Golliwog’s Cakewalk); and Three Preludes by George Gershwin.

Advance and online tickets are $45 for adults and $10 for students, and are available at brownpapertickets.com or at Farley’s House of Pianos (608) 271-2626. Tickets at the door are $50. More details are at SalonPianoSeries.org


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Classical music: Is Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason the next Yo-Yo Ma?

May 22, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you watched the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle – who are now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – you were probably impressed by many things.

Not the least of them was the performance by the young Afro-British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who performed three pieces: “After a Dream” by Gabriel Faure; “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert; and “Sicilienne” (an ancient dance step) by Maria Theresia von Paradis.

The young player acquitted himself just fine, despite the pressure of the event, with its avid public interest in the United Kingdom and a worldwide TV viewership of 2 billion.

But that is to be expected. He is no ordinary teenage cellist. Now 19, he was named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016 — the first black musician of African background to be awarded the honor since it started in 1938. A native of Nottingham, even as he pursues a busy concert and recording schedule, he continues his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

So it was with great anticipation that The Ear listened to “Inspiration,” Kanneh-Mason’s new recording from Decca Records, which is already a bestseller on Amazon.com and elsewhere, and has topped the U.S. pop charts. (There are also many performances by him on YouTube.)

Unfortunately, The Ear was disappointed by the mixed results.

The cellist’s playing is certainly impressive for its technique and tone. But in every piece, he is joined by the City of Birmingham Orchestra or its cello section. The collaboration works exceptionally well with the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. 

However, so many of the other works seem too orchestrated and overly arranged. So much of the music becomes thick and muddy, just too stringy. The Ear wanted to hear more of the young cellist and less of the backup band.

One also has to wonder if the recording benefits from being a mixed album with a program so full of crossovers, perhaps for commercial reasons and perhaps to reach a young audience. There is a klezmer piece, “Evening of the Roses” as well as a reggae piece, “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the famous song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

In addition, there are the familiar “The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens and two pieces by the inspiring cellist referred to in the title of the recording, Pablo (or Pau in Catalan) Casals (below).

A great humanist and champion of democracy who spent most of his career in exile from dictator Franco’s Spain, Casals used the solo “The Birds” as a signature encore. Played solo, it is a poignant piece — just as Yo-Yo Ma played it as an encore at the BBC Proms, which is also on YouTube). But here it simply loses its simplicity and seems overwhelmed.

Clearly, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a musician of great accomplishment and even greater promise who couldn’t have wished for better publicity to launch a big career than he received from the royal wedding. He handles celebrity well and seems a star in the making, possibly even the next Yo-Yo Ma, who has also done his share of film scores and pop transcriptions

But when it comes to the recording studio, a smaller scale would be better. Sometimes less is more, and this is one of those times. (Listen to his beautiful solo playing and his comments in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To take the full measure of his musicianship, The Ear is anxious to hear Kanneh-Mason in solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach and concertos by Antonio Vivaldi; in sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms; in concertos by Antonin Dvorak and Edward Elgar; and in much more standard repertory that allows comparison and is less gimmicky.

Did you hear Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s live performance at the royal wedding? What did you think?

And if you have heard his latest recording, what do you think of that?

Do you think Sheku Kanne-Mason is the next Yo-Yo Ma?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Award-winning University Opera performs Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night

February 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The black-and-white poster (below) looks fittingly eerie, spooky and creepy for one of the most famous ghost stories ever written. Look carefully at the blurry outlines of people – or are they spirits? The ambiguity is deliberate.

uw-turn-of-screw-posyter-2017

The poster advertises the opera “The Turn of the Screw,” which was written in 1954 by British composer Benjamin Britten (below, in a 1968 publicity photo by Decca Records taken by Hans Wild) and is based on a famous gothic novella by the 19th-century American writer Henry James. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear an excerpt from the production at the 2007 Glyndebourne Festival.)

benjamin-britten-london-records-1968-hans-wild

The production of Britten’s last chamber opera promises to be exciting, engaging and innovative. That is thanks to the University Opera’s new permanent artistic director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), a transplanted New Yorker who recently won national awards for two earlier productions at the UW-Madison when he was the opera company’s guest interim director for two seasons.

Below is a link to the complete story, with links to the awards story and other aspects. It also contains information about the cast and about tickets ($25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students).

The Ear wants to point out just a few important highlights:

Performances are in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

After each performance, a talk-back for the audience to ask questions of the cast and the artistic staff will be held.

The running time is two hours with intermission.

The opera will be sung in English, but will also feature supertitles so the audience can easily understand the poetic libretto and follow the story.

The talented and experienced UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below) will conduct members of the UW Symphony Orchestra. Knox has conducted the UW Symphony and the University Opera many times before, and has also conducted for the Madison Opera and the Middleton Community Orchestra. Some mention him as a serious candidate to succeed his retiring and acclaimed teacher, Professor James Smith.

Kyle Knox 2

Here is the link to the full story, with many more details including cast members, on the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).

alisa-weilerstein-cr-harold-hoffmann-for-decca

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/31/491833898/first-impressions-a-guide-to-new-music-in-the-new-season

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).

karp-hoffman-pic

This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: YouTube sensation pianist Valentina Lisitsa talks with NPR about her unusual career and her new recording of music by Michael Nyman. She performs next season again at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

May 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ukrainean-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa is no stranger to Madison.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

She has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater as the accompanist for the American violinist Hilary Hahn. The recital was stupendous and she proved a terrific chamber music partner.

But Valentina Lisitsa, who possesses  a seemingly flawless technique and endless strength and stamina, is also a great keyboard virtuoso in her own right. That side of her talent is what you heard on impressive display when she appeared twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos.

As a reminder, here are some links to older posts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/classical-music-how-youtube-vaulted-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-to-fame-and-fortune-plus-here-are-reminders-about-concerts-today-at-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-the-university-of-wisconsin-scho/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/classical-music-news-new-media-can-lead-back-to-old-media-just-ask-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-whose-superstar-status-on-youtube-has-led-to-her-a-contract-with-decca-classics/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/classical-music-review-the-ear-gets-more-than-an-earful-of-franz-liszt-and-valentina-lisitsa-and-thinks-of-liberace/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/classical-music-review-recitals-don’t-come-more-perfect-than-the-one-by-violinist-hilary-hahn-and-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-at-the-wisconsin-union-theater/

Recently, NPR did an interview with Valentina Lisitsa on the occasion of new Decca recording, a CD of piano music by the British Minimalist composer Michael Nyman, best known probably for his score to the film “The Piano.”

valentina lisitsa and michael nyman

In the interview she discusses how she almost gave up on her piano career; how she turned to YouTube and the Internet the chance they could rescue her career; and how that led her to tens of millions — something like 75 million — followers, who, in turn, got her a recital at Royal Albert Hall that was recorded live and a recording contract with the major label Decca. With Decca, she has also recorded piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff and solo piano music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Alexander Scriabin and especially Franz Liszt among others in a program that her YouTube followers got to choose by voting on the web. (Her YouTube video of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata has over 7 million hits. Check out her YouTube repertoire. It is vast and varied.)

In short, Valentina Lisitsa may well be the model of the new kind of successful career in classical music in The Digital Age of high technology

And show will perform on the Wisconsin Union Theater series, when it reopens in the renovated concert hall I call the “Carnegie Hall of Madison” on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.

Here is the NPR link. The Ear suggests listening to it, not just reading it:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/04/25/305652669/valentina-lisitsa-chasing-pianos-and-youtube-fans

 

 

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Classical music: Is it a Christmas miracle? Monastic chant outsells “Fifty Shades of Grey” music compilation as well as Taylor Swift and Alicia Keyes as Benedictine nuns from Kentucky top Billboard’s Classical Traditional chart for one whole month with “Advent at Ephesus.” Hear the NPR interview with the head sister Mother Cecilia and selections on public radio stations on Christmas Day. Plus, listen to different version;s of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” this afternoon on Wisconsin Public Radio.

December 23, 2012
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ALERT: Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt, an accomplished professional violist who plays both baroque and modern viola, will do something The Ear loves to hear; a comparative listening session that samples different interpretations of a great work. Today from 2 to 4 p.m. on WPR (88.7 FM in the Madison area), Fisher Hoyt will sample six different versions of J.S Bach‘s magnificent “Christmas Oratorio” — The Ear’s favorite holiday choral work that too often gets overlooked in favor of Handel’s “Messiah.” I say: Thank You, Marika, and Tune in, listeners, as part of a Happy Holiday!

MarikaFischerHoyt

By Jacob Stockinger

Still looking for a last-minute music gift for the holidays? You might consider the following unusual item, which comes to The Ear thanks to the publicist at Decca Records and which seems to mark a renewed interest in medieval chant that also swept the US in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dec. 19, 2012 – (New York, NY) — The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Missouri continue their reign at the top of Billboard magazine’s Classical Traditional Chart for the fourth straight week in a row, holding the No. 1 position heading into the Christmas holiday with their recording, “Advent at Ephesus.”

Advent At Ephesus CD cover

American Public Media’s “Performance Today” calls “Advent at Ephesus” “remarkable,” and has featured the recording twice on their program in December, with additional music airing on Christmas Day.  Hailed as one of America’s most popular classical music radio programs, the show has more than 1.3 million weekly listeners, and is heard on more than 260 stations around the country. To find stations carrying the program click here: http://performancetoday.org/stations.

People Magazine recently featured the Nuns on their “People Pinboard” page which highlights “celebrity news, photos and trends” in their Dec. 17th issue, noting that “Advent for Ephesus” “outsells the “Fifty Shades of Grey” classical anthology (below) that author EL James listened to while writing the bestselling trilogy. Can it really be true that God outsells sex — at least at Christmas?

Fifty Shades of Grey CD

The Salt Lake Tribune says the disc is “divinely beautiful,” while The St. Louis Post-Dispatch aptly notes the album is “quietly cutting through the blare and noise of commercial Christmas” and “an ideal remedy for jingle-itis.”

Mother Cecilia of the Benedictines of Mary was also recently featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” following their No 1 debut, making waves across the Internet and resulting in their record shooting to the Top 5 of both Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon.com rankings, ahead of such superstars as Taylor Swift, One Direction, Katy Perry and Alicia Keys.

To hear the “All Things Considered” story, click here:

http://www.npr.org/2012/11/30/166260517/nuns-top-50-shades-in-classical-music-smackdown

nuns CD benedictined

“ADVENT AT EPHESUS” features 16 tracks including traditional English and Latin hymns, polyphony, Gregorian chants, medieval harmonies, and one original work from the sisters themselves.  The record represents a rare and often forgotten approach — one that focuses on music celebrating the quiet, introspective anticipation of the Nativity that is the foundation of the Advent season, celebrating the four preceding Sundays leading up to Christmas.

nuns singing ephsus

Founded in 1995 and hailing from Missouri, the sisters are young, contemplative and extremely musical.  They do not set foot beyond their Northwest rolling farmland, focusing solely on living an austere, yet joyful life set apart from the world.  Working on their farm and mostly living off the land, they sing together eight times a day as part of their daily monastic schedule, lifting their hearts to God through music.


Classical music news: New media can lead back to old media – just ask pianist Valentina Lisitsa whose superstar status on YouTube has led to her a contract with Decca Classics.

May 31, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The media world today keeps getting, as Lewis Carroll might say, curiouser and curiouser.

Many authors now are self-publishing their first efforts because electronic books, or e-books, make it easier than ever to do so. And if the e-books sell well enough, old-fashioned publishers pick up the rights to make them into real old-fashioned cloth-and-paper printed books.

But one of the ironies is that the process also works in reverse.

Many creative talents use the so-called “new media” — blogs and the Internet — to gain access to and acceptance by so-called “old media.” Books have grown out of blogs, as have movies, such as the hit film “Julie and Julia.”

It also applies to classical music.

Take the case of pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below) who, to the best of my count, has performed in Madison four times: twice as accompanist to violinist Hilary Hahn and twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos.

But the Lisitsa phenomenon — and it really is a phenomenon — started about five years when she started posting her performance (of a Rachmaninoff work) on YouTube.

Since then, as the most popular pianist on YouTube (which has a huge number of current and historic piano videos) she has racked up more than 40 million individual hits or visits, as well as some 52,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, for her many recordings of favorite works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and other composers.

Then last week, one of the classic great “old media” outlets – Decca Records, which belongs to the giant conglomerate Universal – signed her to a contract. It will start with a recording her debut recital at Royal Albert Hall on June 19. A digital version will available later in June and a CD will be released July 3.

Surely, Decca officials figured that so much interest on the Internet suggests that Lisitsa is very bankable and has a good chance of making money for the label.

So it will record her upcoming concert at Royal Albert Hall in London.

And guess what?

The 39-year-old Lisitsa, who was born in Ukraine but lives in the U.S., asked her fans for what program she should play – for what their favorite pieces played her are.

Here is a link to her You Tube Channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ValentinaLisitsa

Here is a link to my review of an impressive mostly Liszt recital she played in Madison last summer:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/classical-music-review-the-ear-gets-more-than-an-earful-of-franz-liszt-and-valentina-lisitsa-and-thinks-of-liberace/

Here are links to stories about her deal with Decca:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-valentina-lisitsa-signs-to-decca-classics

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/9288208/Online-piano-star-Valentina-Lisitsa-gets-Albert-Hall-debut.html

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/05/exclusive-youtubes-favourite-pianist-signs-major-label-contract.html

http://www.classical-music.com/news/valentina-lisitsa-decca-classics

And here is a link to her program for the solo recital in Royal Albert Hall (below top shows the unusually shaped exterior, below bottom shows the spacious interior), along with information about tickets, should you want to or be able to attend it:

http://tickets.royalalberthall.com/tickets/valentina-lisitsa/default.aspx

My question is a simple one: Why would you buy a CD if you can hear the same pieces for free on YouTube?

I suppose so you can hear the artist and those works away from a computer or electronic device – at home or in the car or on an iPod.

Whatever the case, you have to assume the dramatic and temperamental, virtuosic and photogenic Lisitsa knows what she is doing.

She seems as gifted in commercial strategy as in classical piano technique and interpretation.

Below is Lisitsa playing one of my favorite Rachmaninoff preludes — in G major — though by no means one of her most popular videos, some of which have almost 3 million hits. I like the tone and the way the video shows her unusual stroking technique of hitting the keys — which seems to allow her never to strain.

Brava, Valentina!


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